How to keep remote employees under your wing

August 27, 2019 John Rossheim

4-minute read

remote worker

Maybe you’re a government contractor, or a management consulting firm, or a globally distributed sales business. You invest as much in your employees as any other employer does, from training, to management resources, to competitive compensation.

But you face a talent challenge that many organizations don’t. How can you build and maintain engagement and loyalty in your remote employees – the ones who spend nearly all their days on their own, or under the roof of a client’s organization, working closely only with the people at that location? How can you keep top talent circling back to you for reassignment when their contract ends, rather than taking an opportunity elsewhere?

And here are the keys to your remote workforce challenge: Keep communicating, continuously improve the structures that underly work relationships, encourage professional growth with recognition, and bring people together face-to-face periodically. We believe you’ll find that if you build engagement in your far-flung workforce, your organization will reap rewards in loyalty and retention.

Communicate regularly with each remote worker.

It may sound obvious, but many organizations that send out contract employees – whether to the Department of Defense or a professional services client in the private sector – don’t pay much attention to them except when a long-term assignment is about to end.

“Don’t fall into the out-of-sight, out-of-mind trap,” says Peggy Smith, CEO of Worldwide ERC. Make periodic contact with every remote professional, whether they’re at a satellite office or working under a client’s roof on long-term contract, she says. “Bring them back to headquarters at least quarterly. And check in with them at least every other week and ask, ‘How are things going?’”

Don’t assume that everything is going well for remote workers just because you hear nothing from them. “Keep in mind that people who are working remotely may be hesitant to ask for help,” says Peggy. If you have an employee working on a client’s premises and the client is behaving unprofessionally, your employee needs to know that you have their back, she adds.

Keep working on your long-distance work relationships.

Put structures in place to maintain healthy relationships with contractors or other far-flung employees. “Charge HR or an internal team to be the organization’s ‘remote conscience,’” Peggy says. “Give an individual or a group the responsibility of watching out for their remote colleagues,” whether they’re on contract or just working at small branch offices. “This will build respect for professionals in diverse work arrangements.”

Leverage the advantages inherent in working relationships that are not full-time and face-to-face. A distributed company enables employees to be more focused on data and skills – on the content of the work – and less on politics, says Michael Tuso, director of revenue performance at Chili Piper, a sales software vendor with employees in 28 cities and 12 countries.

Emphasize the similarities of a remote, networked organization to a conventional one – where, after all, people Slack each other from cubicles 10 feet apart. “I’m still surprised at how similar it is to being in any open office,” says Michael. “It’s forced me to be a better communicator. Just like any sales organization, we have regular meetings every Friday.”

Encourage professional growth with recognition.

Keep in mind that everyone is looking for professional growth, no matter where in the world they sit. “The first thing millennials ask for is growth opportunities,” says Michael. “I center every conversation around growth and learning.”

Include all types of remote workers in your recognition and rewards programs. Consider creating a reward system customized to government contract workers, people who work from home, and so on.

Recognize employees who embody the values of your organization, wherever in the world they work. “‘Be helpful’ is a core value, we bring it up in meetings,” says Michael. “No one will ever say, ‘That’s not my job.’ Helpfulness spills over into relationships with prospects and customers.”

Keep in mind that recognition can reward a wide spectrum of desirable behaviors, not just meeting quantitative goals. “Recognition is really important, even day-to-day,” says Michael. “Say someone is working on training. So often as leaders we often forget to recognize that.” There, the achievement is meeting a skills-development goal. “You have to embed recognition in everything you do.”

Allocate resources for face-to-face interactions.

When workers are dispersed, face-to-face meetings are even more powerful. For example, when Chili Piper’s sales force hit a big goal in 2018, the company flew all employees to Paris as a reward. “There was a lot of electricity when all those folks who had never seen each other finally met face-to-face,” says Michael.

Think about ways to bring together groups of employees who work close to each other, but not near a central office. “We have WeWork memberships,” says Michael. WeWork provides on-demand office spaces, among other services. The yield in collaboration and camaraderie can be well worth the investment.

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About the Author

John Rossheim

John Rossheim writes about healthcare, diversity, recruiting and human resources.

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